Archived - Notes for a meeting with the management team of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
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Winnipeg, Manitoba, April 16, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
It's a pleasure to be with you here today in Winnipeg.
Thank you for inviting me to discuss linguistic duality and its importance for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I have always thought that your remarkable building was in a particularly symbolic place. Geographically, you are near the mid-point of the country; historically, you overlook the St. Boniface Cathedral-Basilica and Louis Riel's tomb.
Work has progressed immensely since my last visit, in 2009. What was then a project is now a reality, and our new national museum is close to completion.
Our organizations' mandates are closely linked—therefore, I am very happy to meet all of you today. Looking back through our history gives us an opportunity to take stock of how we got here, to look toward the future and to think about all that we can still achieve together.
Since the beginning of my mandate in 2006, my foremost objective has been to send the message that linguistic duality is truly a Canadian value, not just an administrative duty. It is vitally important that federal organizations show leadership when it comes to protecting our language achievements, especially if we are to claim that this is an essentially Canadian value.
Thirty-five years ago, to promote equal opportunity and enable all people in Canada to fully take part in society, free from discrimination, our parliamentarians created the Canadian Human Rights Act. Our new national museum's purpose is to commemorate this noble objective by promoting respect for others and increasing the public's understanding of human rights.
This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. Its legacy allowed our government to recognize language rights as human rights; rights that are guaranteed in a charter and respected across the country.
The Royal Commission's recommendations led not only to the development of Canadian language policy, but also to the policy of multiculturalism. And the language rights that were defined in the Official Languages Act in 1969 became enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, and further elaborated by the Supreme Court of Canada to include the right to minority-language schools and minority-language school boards and the right to a criminal trial in French.
All these acts of recognition of rights over the past four decades represent the reversal of actions taken to eliminate French-language rights:
- the removal of public funding to Catholic schools in Manitoba in 1890 (which gave rise to the conflict known the Manitoba Schools Question);
- the elimination of French-language rights with the creation of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905; and
- Regulation 17 in Ontario, which banned the use of French as a language of instruction.
They were all tools of oppression and assimilation used by the majority against the minority. Those rights were then fought for and won back, defined and enshrined, after a century of discrimination. It is extremely important that this museum represent these struggles as part of the fight for human rights in Canada. To ignore them would be an act of shameful neglect.
It is appropriate that this museum be situated right in the heart of Canada, where the east and west meet. It is being built close to the Forks at the junction of the Assiniboine and Red rivers. For 6,000 years, this has been a meeting place for Aboriginal people, fur traders and thousands of immigrants. The Forks is a well-known tourist destination visited by millions of people every year.
Because it is a national museum, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is required to comply with the Official Languages Act. Your language obligations fall into two categories: language of service and promotion of bilingualism.
To respect the spirit of the law, which is a spirit of openness and inclusiveness, Canadians need to recognize that both English and French, along with the cultures they represent, belong to all of us. This museum is a national institution. French-speaking Canadians from around the country must feel it is their museum just as much as it is for English-speaking Canadians.
Canada's policies on linguistic duality help not only to strengthen our social fabric, but also to define us as Canadians. This is why, in order to uphold linguistic duality as a fundamental value, your organization's leaders must promote respect for linguistic duality.
Creating a work environment that genuinely respects linguistic duality is a challenge that requires action at all levels of the organization. I was pleased to learn that you have already established an official languages policy for the museum. Taking concrete steps to provide an environment that encourages and enables people to work in their official language of choice shows great leadership on your part.
However, the fact that the museum is situated in a region where federal employees do not benefit from the right to work in their language of choice poses some challenges. Simply put, offering bilingual services to the population is more natural when both languages are used internally in the workplace. Therefore, your organization will have to establish practices that reflect its intention to go above and beyond its organizational responsibilities. Not everybody must be bilingual, but the quality of service in both official languages will make for a good experience for your visitors.
For example, you need to be able to address all visitors in their preferred official language. It's a matter of being a good host. Learning French as a second language and drawing on the language knowledge of French-speaking community members have real economic value.
To show that linguistic duality is an intrinsic part of your service principles, you have to make your corporate bilingualism visible. This includes, for example, making sure that all your signage is in English and French and that all employees greet each visitor with a “Hello, bonjour.” This way, visitors are confident of receiving service in the official language of their choice at all times. This develops a corporate culture that values linguistic duality.
The approach you take to language—particularly how much you respect it as a value rather than an obligation—affects how your institution is perceived by employees, volunteers and visitors.
New tools in communications—including blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds—present challenges to federal organizations in how they connect with Canadians while, at the same time, upholding their language rights. It is possible to use social media, which are available in French, while complying with the Official Languages Act. Do not forget that, as a national museum, your organization must express its public personality in both languages.
When we see linguistic duality as a value, we see that it and human rights go hand in hand. Both have respect at their core.
Thank you. I would now like to answer any questions you have.